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Writing Romance: How Often Should You Publish to Make a Full-Time Living?

Even though I’m a freelance writer of business content primarily, I started writing and self-publishing romance novellas in the spring of 2013 (really 2014 as I only published one romance novel in 2013; in 2014, I published over 20). Read why here.

I have to say, I’d read over and over where established author said you had to publish frequently to keep selling, but I didn’t realize how frequently.

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FYI, the information I’m about to relay is based on my own personal experiences. There are so many factors that go into achieving success as a self-publisher it ain’t even funny. So don’t let these numbers scare you (one way or the other). There are many who publish WAY less frequently, and earn WAY WAY more than I do. And there are those who’ve published a lot more, and find even a few sales hard to come by.

I just like to share to give you some insight into what you can (maybe) expect if you decide to self-publish fiction (romance) or any other genre. Now, let’s get on with the info, shall we?

My Self-Publishing Romance Writing Journey

When I wrote my first romance, it didn’t sell well. It was a contemporary, African American romance. I’ve been self-publishing ebooks (all how-to, non-fiction before turning my attention to fiction in 2013) since 2002. So I had some experience under my belt. But some of the rules that apply to non-fiction don’t apply to fiction, especially the romance genre.

Anyway, when my first romance novella didn’t do well, I went back to my money making niche – how-to, non-fiction (most ebooks on how to start a freelance writing career, how to make money in self-publishing and internet marketing).

Note: I’m not saying African American romance doesn’t sell. In fact, it does. It’s just I haven’t been able to crack that nut yet. With that being said, the first interracial romance novel I put out did much better than my first one. Following are some stats for comparison.

Self-Publishing Fiction Sales: Actual Figures from 3 Novels

First (Romance) Fiction Novel Sales: 3 Weeks ’til Forever: A Contemporary, African American Romance (Published in May 20, 2013)

6 – May 2013
2 – June 2013
0 – July 2013
Total Sold in First 3 Months of Release: 8 copies

After this first one, I didn’t publish another one for almost a year. Although I liked writing in the genre, I needed to make money writing, so I went back to my non-fiction. But look at what happened when I published my second one, which was an interracial love story (yes, niche matters).

Second (Romance) Fiction Novel Sales: Trapped by Desire: A Contemporary, Interracial Romance (Published March 12, 2014)

241 – March (9 copies of 3 weeks ‘til Forever sold that month)
159 – April (11 copies of 3 weeks ‘til Forever sold that month)
22 – May (12 copies of 3 weeks ‘til Forever sold that month)
Total Sold in First 3 Months of Release: 422 copies

Not huge numbers, but hot damn, I’m cooking in grease now!

I was pricing my novels at $2.99 and earning 70% of that on Amazon and 65% on Barnes & Noble, the only two outlets I was publishing on at the time. That was almost $300 per month from ONE book on ONE outlet (AMZ).

I was like, let me increase my output – that’s not a bad way to make a living, especially as I write “short romantic fiction” (10,000 to 25,000 words or so; although my first one was almost 30,000 words, and my most recent one is right at 40,000).

These numbers were enough to encourage me to continue writing in this genre. I churned out 15 or 16 more short romances in this niche and then in June, I published my most successful one to date – before Amazon’s KU subscription service kicked in and killed sales, slashing the earnings of even established authors.

Most Successful Fiction (Romance) Novel to Date Sales: A Lover for Beth: A Multicultural Romance (Published July 23, 2014)

404 – July 2014
624 – Aug 2014
103 – Sept 2014
Total Sold in First 3 Months of Release: 1,131 copies

So to my original question — how often do you have to publish to earn enough to write romance (and/or fiction) full time?

Priced Out of Love: A Multicultural RomanceWell before my latest release, Priced Out of Love, which was published today (and is selling well for my expectations), I hadn’t published anything since mid-February. And sales had dried up to almost nothing – even though I have almost 30 romance titles under my belt now.

How Often I Plan to Publish Fiction Moving Forward to Keep My Income Stable

Luckily I publish across several outlets, eg, Barnes & Noble, All Romance Ebooks and Google Play, among others – AND I have my non-fiction catalog of titles. Most of the sales from those come from my website. So it’s all good, but as successful romance writer HM Ward says in the AdWeek article linked to above …

“If you’re not constantly putting out new material, people forget you’re there.”

My plans have changed because self-publishing is new and ever evolving. So you have to stay nimble, in my opinion, to keep earnings steady. That’s why I’ll keep publishing non-fiction (which has been earned well for me), until I get a bona fide “hit” on my hands (fiction or non-fiction) that will allow me to sock away a stash of cash so I never have to worry about money again, and then I’ll focus all my efforts on one genre (fiction).

My goal was to move totally away from publishing non-fiction to focus wholly on fiction, publishing one romance novel per week. Lately however, I’ve been busy with other projects so that hasn’t been possible. And for me, this means putting out at least two new romance titles a month (with a “non-fiction, how-to” title thrown in for good measure).

That’s just my 2 cents.

Your Insight

Do you write fiction as a freelance writer? How often do you publish? Have your sales been affected by Amazon’s KU subscription service? How often would you like to put out a new book? What do you think is realistic? Please share in the comments section below.

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    1. I am sending this to several friends and also sharing it on delicious. And naturally, thanks on your effort!